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Counterpoint: You Are Wrong, Steinberg

Let there be NO doubt, Robert Zarco and his law firm represent franchisees. Anybody who really knows my firm and the work we do knows that Robert Zarco is first and foremost the champion of franchisees across the country and around the world.

Paul Steinberg is very angry about what he perceives to be a betrayal of Cold Stone franchisees by Robert Zarco, but, respectfully, Mr. Steinberg is simply dead wrong on this point. I am acting on behalf of the franchisees exclusively and he misses the big picture at work here. Mr. Steinberg fails to understand that Cold Stone hired my firm to represent the Cold Stone franchisees, not as a nefarious plot to lure its biggest adversary over to the “dark side,” but because as Cold Stone stated, “it sought the best franchise attorney in the country” as representation for its franchisees. Mr. Steinberg’s insistence that the interests of franchisor and franchisee can never be aligned is myopic. In my opinion, it is a deadly poison to the well-being of franchisees everywhere to take the position that franchisors and franchisees truly can never, ever work together under any circumstances. That is simply counter-productive, and against the best interests of the franchisees.

I understand, probably better than anyone, that Cold Stone has not been perfect in the manner in which it has operated in the past and the relationships it has undertaken with certain franchisees under particular circumstances. This is very typical of any franchisor in the country. Nevertheless, the brand itself, in which thousands of franchisees are deeply invested, is entitled to be protected from the sort of irresponsible reporting made manifest in CNBC’s television program. The focus of my efforts is to protect the brand. If those who profess that their goal is to destroy and decimate the brand itself through misinformation succeed, this would be nothing short of a Pyrrhic victory putting everyone, but most importantly the franchisees, out of business.

Mr. Steinberg opposes my advocacy on behalf of the Cold Stone franchisees just because it also creates a corresponding benefit to the franchisor. This is cutting off your nose to spite your face to the nth degree. It appears that Mr. Steinberg’s writings may be more of an effort to drum up business that he might not otherwise get in the absence of conjuring a new villain (Zarco) to guide more phone calls to his number over other more well-known franchise attorneys. In my opinion, it does all franchisees a disservice to conflate the issues in this way. Contrary to Mr. Steinberg’s allegations, there will be no conflict in the event of a dispute between the NAB and the NIACSF. It was communicated to Cold Stone in no uncertain terms that my ultimate allegiance will always lie with the franchisees themselves in the event of a dispute, and I will never waiver or compromise from that position. If this has not been adequately communicated to individual franchisee members, I encourage such franchisees to call me personally to discuss it.

Paper tigers have no bite and are not respected by me.

As a final matter, I’d like to address Mr. Steinberg’s comments about free speech. “Support free speech, fight Zarco Einhorn,” says Paul Steinberg.

Catchy slogan, but does it actually mean anything in the present dispute? “Free speech” is a concept that people invoke again and again without having a real understanding of what the phrase actually means. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people and the press from government interference in expression. Although I often like to comfort my associates that I run my law firm as a “benevolent enterprise,” I can honestly say that Mr. Steinberg’s column and comments constitute the first time anyone has ever actually charged that I wield the power of a head of state. While I am flattered, I am not the government, and neither is Cold Stone or its franchisees that I represent. The First Amendment and free speech have absolutely nothing to do with what is going on between CNBC and the Cold Stone franchise system.

If CNBC voluntarily chose to take mitigating action in response to my letter where I pointed out deficiencies in its reporting, that is not censorship. That is reasonable journalism and responsible management, guided by an attempt to correct what was irresponsible and reckless reporting.

About the author: Robert Zarco of Zarco Einhorn Salkowski & Brito, P.A. has earned national and international recognition in the area of franchise litigation by representing franchisees in disputes with McDonald's, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, 7-Eleven, Arby's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Tony Roma's, Coca-Cola, Decorating Den, Miami Subs, T.G.I. Friday's, Manhattan Bagel Co., Blimpie's, Pepsico Inc., Kenny Rogers Roasters, Holiday Inn Hotels, Best Western Hotels, Quality Inn Hotels, Ramada Hotels, Johnny Rockets, T.C.B.Y., Little Caesar's Pizza, and Hot N' Now, among 400 other franchise systems. Robert has provided expert testimony before various state legislatures and actively lobbies both state and federal congressmen, representing the franchisees' interests and promoting the enactment of "Fair Franchising" legislation.

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